Practicing Pronunciation for Higher Scores in Standardized English Tests (TOEFL/IELTS)

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1 SAUNDZ Practicing Pronunciation for Higher Scores in Standardized English Tests (TOEFL/IELTS) A White Paper Saundz Research 11/5/2014 The paper discusses pronunciation assessment methods on standardized English tests such as TOEFL and IELTS, as well as the ways Saundz pronunciation software can assist students in achieving higher scores.

2 Table of Contents Introduction: Speech Delivery Rating... 2 Importance of Pronunciation in TOEFL/IELTS... 2 Features of Saundz... 3 Expected results... 4 TOEFL Speaking Assessment Rubrics... 4 Independent Speaking Rubrics... 5 Integrated Speaking rubrics... 7 IELTS Speaking Assessment Criteria... 8 Conclusion American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

3 Introduction: Speech Delivery Rating Standardized English language tests such as TOEFL and IELTS both include assessment of students speaking skills. Although their rating rubrics slightly differ, both could be said to dedicate similar amount of attention to correctness of pronunciation. While TOEFL speech delivery rating sees pronunciation in the framework of independent and integrated speaking tasks, IELTS on the other hand, observes pronunciation as a separate category. On both these tests, speaking is a category that is rated on a 0 4 or 0 9 scale, respectively. Importance of Pronunciation in TOEFL/IELTS As suggested by many EFL professionals, pronunciation is a vital part of oral proficiency in English, since without mastering this skill, students cannot be neither properly understood, nor assessed on standardized tests. Furthermore, students themselves consider pronunciation as one of the most difficult part to master for these types of test. Kaplan TOEFL ibt Premier explicitly states that pronunciation is a vital part of any spoken language, and it is often the most difficult skill to improve (232). They also note that answers on TOEFL are not only marked by content but speaking ability as well, which is why it is essential to improve pronunciation. The proper pronunciation of vowels and consonants in English depends on manipulating the mouth, lips, tongue and breath in specific but subtle ways. Just as a dancer or athlete practices the same essential movements over and over, you should practice the actions necessary for various sounds. Since this is exactly what Saundz does, it may be valuable for students to engage in this type of practice. Furthermore, practicing pronunciation can also help students perform better on the listening component of these tests because developing better pronunciation skills also helps in improving listening skills. In relation to the importance of pronunciation for TOEFL, Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL states that pronunciation practice can help students succeed on the TOEFL test in two ways: You will improve your understanding of spoken English and do better on the tasks that involve listening and you will improve the clarity and comprehensibility of your own speech and perform better on the speaking task. In order to improve your pronunciation skills, you should focus on three different areas of English pronunciation: individual speech sounds, stress and rhythm, and intonation. Obviously, it is highly important for students who aim at the highest marks to be able to demonstrate a high level of fluency, which includes correct pronunciation as well. However, pronunciation practice does not always receive the attention it deserves in the teaching process. 2 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz Pronunciation is a vital part of any spoken language, and it is often the most difficult skill to improve.

4 For example, in a 2010 Survey of the Teaching of Pronunciation to Adult ESL Programs in Canada, survey respondents noted that 85% of their students requested pronunciation instruction or classes, due in part to their interest in taking a TOEFL/IELTS test. This is where Saundz pronunciation software reaches its full potential, since it can help students who lack consistent communication in English. With a variety of exercises aimed at students on different levels of English proficiency, Saundz helps them correct their basic pronunciation mistakes. Features of Saundz In a 2010 survey, 85% of students requested pronunciation instruction or classes to prepare for either a test or an interview. Saundz represents a unique pronunciation practice tool because it includes the advanced technical features and professionally developed learning curriculum that supports the needs of both individual and classroom practice. Saundz enables students to practice 40 basic sounds of American English through more than 160 lessons that include: 400 example words (with dictionary definitions, images and example sentences) Minimal pair drills (used to differentiate phonemes perceived as same or similar; especially when it comes to distinctive phonetic features such as vowel length, nasality and aspiration) Word stress representation Syllabification (enables students to easily recognize basic units of words and potentially patterns for combining syllables into words) Multiple curriculums (focus on phonemes historically proved to be problematic for speakers of particular languages) These represent the basics for organizing the Saundz curriculum. By practicing every sound in relation to those that could potentially be perceived as similar to it, students better understand the differences between authentic English sounds and possible equivalents in their native languages. Furthermore, Saundz provides the following (Resource: Saundz as a Pronunciation Teaching Tool for Modern Classrooms): Studio recorded high quality native speakers recordings (4 voices, 2 male and 2 female) Visual input in the form of Simone, a high-definition movie quality animated teacher who is able to show speech mechanics from two available modes side view and front view and clearly shows the proper movements of the tongue, lips and jaw In recording mode students record their pronunciation of a word and compare it side by side with that of one of Saundz s native speakers Saundz use the IPA, an internationally recognized orthoepic convention for teaching English pronunciation 3 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

5 Saundz curriculum is carefully designed and organized to progress students in an orderly manner sound by sound until they master their pronunciation Students can practice on their own, while teachers can monitor their progress Saundz is also a cost-effective solution for classrooms; unlike language laboratories, Saundz allows browser-based access and mobile device access and does not require any special equipment Expected results To illustrate the potential of Saundz, there are results from a field test that was carried out in October Namely, after the test all students showed some improvement in their skills. Some general conclusions are that: Students with advanced knowledge of English and relatively good pronunciation skills, made progress in terms of specific features (e.g. corrected pronunciation of specific sounds.) Students who lacked good command of English pronunciation were able to improve specific consonants and vowels, but their improvement was better reflected in their reading abilities (they sounded clearer, more confident and were easier to understand.) Source: Saundz Software Application Provides Students with Functionality Necessary for Improving English Pronunciation Skills These results demonstrate the potential of phonology practice in general; namely, the basic practice (segmentals) contributes to developing better overall reading and speaking skills. Although listening skills have not been tested in this particular test, it is reasonable to assume that students may enhance those too. TOEFL Speaking Assessment Rubrics Source: Educational Testing Service During the speaking part of the TOEFL exam, students are required to possess advanced pronunciation skills in order to get the highest mark. Correct pronunciation therefore plays an important part in test preparation. In terms of speech delivery, students get the highest mark if they demonstrate the following: Speech is generally clear, fluid and sustained. It may include minor lapses or minor difficulties with pronunciation or intonation. Pace may vary at times as the speaker attempts to recall information. Overall intelligibility remains high. 4 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

6 On the other hand, bad delivery skills refer to the following: Consistent pronunciation, stress and intonation difficulties cause considerable listener effort; delivery is choppy, fragmented, or telegraphic; frequent pauses and hesitations. Therefore, poor pronunciation could potentially impede students ability to demonstrate their knowledge of grammar or vocabulary to a listener/rater on a test. Independent Speaking Rubrics Independent speaking tasks refer to students ability to effectively share their personal experiences, and communicate clearly their ideas and opinions. Since students are required to respond on topics familiar to them, this part of the TOEFL examination focuses solely on students speaking skills. While responding to integrated speaking tasks, students are required to use more than one skill. In other words, developed speaking skills are not enough for the successful completion of this task. Instead, these tasks integrate reading or listening with students speaking skills. To put it simply, students are graded on the basis of how well they can digest information and communicate it. 5 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

7 6 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

8 Integrated Speaking rubrics 7 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

9 IELTS Speaking Assessment Criteria The IELTS test approaches assessing speaking somewhat differently. As highlighted below, Pronunciation is a separate category on the test. The greatest mark/band would be assigned to students who use a full range of pronunciation features with precision and subtlety. This also relates to the ability to correctly pronounce individual sounds, and especially to making distinctions between vowel lengths in order to avoid possible misunderstandings. This is again, one of the areas where Saundz can prove to be a helpful tool. Table source: British Council Ban d Fluency and coherence Lexical resource Grammatical range and accuracy Pronunciation 9 Speaks fluently with only rare repetition or self correction; any hesitation is contentrelated rather than to find words or grammar Speaks coherently with fully appropriate cohesive features Uses vocabulary with full flexibility and precision in all topics Uses idiomatic language naturally and accurately Uses a full range of structures naturally and appropriately Produces consistently accurate structures apart from slips characteristic of native speaker speech Uses a full range of pronunciation features with precision and subtlety Sustains flexible use of features throughout Is effortless to understand Develops topics fully and appropriately 8 Speaks fluently with only occasional repetition or self-correction; hesitation is usually content related and only rarely to search for language Develops topics coherently and appropriately Uses a wide vocabulary resource readily and flexibly to convey precise meaning Uses less common and idiomatic vocabulary skilfully, with occasional inaccuracies Uses a wide range of structures flexibly Produces a majority of error-free sentences with only very occasional inappropriateness or basic/unsystematic errors Uses a wide range of pronunciation features Sustains flexible use of features, with only occasional lapses Is easy to understand throughout; 1 accent has minimal effect on intelligibility Uses paraphrase effectively as required 7 Speaks at length without noticeable effort or loss of coherence May demonstrate language-related hesitation at times, or some repetition and/or self-correction Uses a range of Uses vocabulary resource flexibly to discuss a variety of topics Uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some 8 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz Uses a range of complex structures with some flexibility Frequently produces error-free sentences, though some grammatical mistakes persist Shows all the positive features of band 6 and some, but not all, of the positive features of band 8

10 connectives and discourse markers with some flexibility inappropriate choices Uses paraphrase effectively 6 Is willing to speak at length, though may lose coherence at times due to occasional repetition, self-correction or hesitation Uses a range of connectives and discourse markers but not always appropriately Has a wide enough vocabulary to discuss topics at length and make meaning clear in spite of inappropriateness Generally paraphrases successfully Uses a mix of simple and complex structures, but with limited flexibility May make frequent mistakes with complex structures, though these rarely cause comprehension problems Uses a range of pronunciation features with mixed control Shows some effective use of features but this is not sustained Can generally be understood throughout, though mispronunciation of individual words or sounds reduces clarity at times 5 Usually maintains flow of speech but uses repetition, self-correction and/or slow speech to keep going May over-use certain connectives and discourse markers Produces simple speech fluently, but more complex communication causes fluency problems Manages to talk about familiar and unfamiliar topics but uses vocabulary with limited flexibility Attempts to use paraphrase but with mixed success Produces basic sentence forms with reasonable accuracy Uses a limited range of more complex structures, but these usually contain errors and may cause some comprehension problems Shows all the positive features of band 4 and some, but not all, of the positive features of band 6 4 Cannot respond without noticeable pauses and may speak slowly, with frequent repetition and self-correction Links basic sentences but with repetitious use of simple connectives and some breakdowns in coherence Is able to talk about familiar topics but can only convey basic meaning on unfamiliar topics and makes frequent errors in word choice Rarely attempts paraphrase Produces basic sentence forms and some correct simple sentences but subordinate structures are rare Errors are frequent and may lead to misunderstanding Uses a limited range of pronunciation features Attempts to control features but lapses are frequent Mispronunciations are frequent and cause some difficulty for the listener 3 Speaks with long pauses Has limited ability to link simple sentences Gives only simple responses and is frequently unable to Uses simple vocabulary to convey personal information Has insufficient vocabulary for less familiar topics Attempts basic sentence forms but with limited success, or relies on apparently memorised utterances Makes numerous errors except in memorised expressions Shows some of the features of band 2 and some, but not all, of the positive features of band 4 9 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

11 convey basic message 2 Pauses lengthily before most words Little communication possible Only produces isolated words or memorised utterances Cannot produce basic sentence forms Speech is often unintelligible 1 No communication possible No rateable language Conclusion As outlined in the summary of this paper, Saundz represents an efficient practice tool for students who aim to take standardized English language tests. Saundz represents a unique tool in today s EFL market because of the variety of features it contains and because of the professionally-designed curriculum that enables students to practice on their own. Since students are required to demonstrate minimum pronunciation mistakes on TOEFL/IELTS, practicing with Saundz can help them achieve this. However, it students should take the practice seriously because improving pronunciation skills is very important on a long-term basis. In Pronunciation and Phonetics: A Practical Guide for English Language Teachers Adam Brown states that: Pronunciation proficiency in a foreign language should not be something that can be turned on specifically for tests. Pronunciation proficiency in a foreign language should not be something that can be turned on specifically for tests. Pronunciation practice with Saundz can have an important effect not only on students test scores, but their future ability to communicate in English, too. Therefore, all students of English who feel uncomfortable with their pronunciation skills should dedicate some time to improving this aspect as well. 10 American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

12 References: Brown, Adam. Pronunciation and Phonetics: A Practical Guide for English Language Teachers. Foote, Jennifer A., Amy K. Holtby and Tracey M. Derwings. Survey of the Teaching of Pronunciation in Adult ESL Programs in Canada, TESL Canada Journal/Revue TESL Du Canada, vol. 29, No 1. Winter Kaplan, Inc. Kaplan TOEFL ibt Premier with 4 Practice Tests. New York: Kaplan Publishing. Routledge American English Pronunciation Software Saundz

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